The Same, Same Old Story

November 2, 2011

So I failed utterly in my efforts to transform Emilia into a crime-fighting strawberry with royal lineage, in part because I just couldn’t figure it out (some of you had very good suggestions involving pillowcases, but, alas, we do not have red pillowcases and I did not have time to acquire red pillowcases, and also, who has red pillowcases? Don’t those imply red bedding? WHO HAS RED BEDDING?), and also in part because by the time I got home Monday evening Emilia had already decided that the quality of her costume mattered less than the speed with which she could launch herself into trick-or-treating and was having none of my suggestions about how to turn ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ into ‘Her Royal Highness, SuperBerry.’ She just wanted to get out there. Cramming her into one of my red sweaters and going at it with a Sharpie would just slow her down.

So she declared herself ‘Super Strawberry Shortcake’ and insisted that despite her lack of a cape, she was indeed a superhero. Jasper, The Cowardly Lion, was her sidekick.

Which is great and all, but still: I felt guilty about not having been fully available to plan and execute their Halloween costumes. I still feel guilty. I know that I’m supposed to forgive myself my maternal limitations, but this working mom thing (this working away from home working mom thing) is still pretty new to me, and it’s hard to distinguish what’s a real, understandable, everyone-goes-through-this kind of limitation, and what’s an oh, hey, you’re screwing up limitation. I worry that my limitations are more of the latter variety. Sure, I could only get home when I got home, but couldn’t I have gotten their costumes fully ready on the weekend? Couldn’t I have better supported my husband in working on their costumes by, say, explaining (he’s never before been in charge of costumes/wardrobe) how to navigate Emilia’s sartorial indecisiveness? Couldn’t I have done something better? Am I doing this all wrong?

I know better than this, of course. I know that I shouldn’t judge myself so harshly. But, but… if I don’t judge myself, if I don’t regularly ask myself how I am doing, if I don’t set expectations for myself and try to meet them, am I not letting myself – am I not letting them – down?

The measure that I’ve set for myself, of course, is one that considers only the amount of love that I express, and the integrity of the care that I provide. But Halloween costumes aren’t constructed out of love, no matter how eloquently I can insist the contrary. Emilia had a wonderful time in the costume that she contrived for herself, but what would have I done if she hadn’t? What will I do when she doesn’t?

How will I answer her when she asks why I wasn’t there? How will I answer myself?

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    { 13 comments }

    sweetney November 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Ahh, yes – the title says it well. When do we stop feeling this? The guilt? Never, I’m guessing. There’s always more time we could’ve been there. More attention we could’ve given. There’s always some way we’ve fallen short.

    But then, I’ve given up that measuring stick – judging myself by some illusive Better Version Of Myself That Doesn’t Exist, the perfected me. I am never going to be that. And it’s okay. Because what I am – and what you are – is pretty fucking good. xo

    Alexicographer November 2, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    The vibrant excitement of your trick-or-treaters comes through loud and clear in that photo, or maybe it’s my recent exposure to my own vibrantly excited trick-or-treater I’m channeling (for the record his costume was a store-bought, or more probably ebay-bought, firefighter’s costume that he wore, quite contentedly, nay, vibrantly excitedly, for the second year running).

    Now to the larger issue. Your children are (and mine is) young. But do we really want to define maternal responsibility as actually being there (as opposed to, say, being there in spirit, or being on call if needed)? Sure, there are some events we shouldn’t miss; I very much hope to be present at my son’s wedding, if he gets married. But I want to raise him to enjoy (e.g.) scoring a soccer goal, or being on the winning team, or heck, being on the losing team but having played a good game, or even a lousy but fun game, no less because I am not there to witness it. Actually I am somewhat astounded (and not in a good way) at how many people (including but not limited to children) think contemporary life is performance art. I don’t, and I don’t want to raise my child to, need others observing what I’m up to to enjoy it. Also? I don’t want to attend my son’s dissertation defense, though presented with the opportunity I’ll certainly congratulate him on having undertaken it. None of which is to say I think we should never be there, but I think it’s fine, indeed, desirable, to see part of raising our children successfully as teaching them not to expect or need us actually to be physically present much of the time.

    Lisa November 2, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Reading your description of how you view parenting, with its quarterly performance evaluations, sounds draining and stressful. I can see having that kind of rigor about work, or fitness, but about home life and relationships? Is that what you want to pass on? Or is it self acceptance? You grant your kids such wonderful freedom to be who they are, but not yourself. Forget about forgiving, how about just accepting you do the best you can and your kids aren’t going to grow up damaged.

    Living that example, that will give them the same freedom for the,selves. They will notice your walk way more than your talk.

    Seriously, your kid didnt even care. And one could argue that she is old enough to live with the consequences of her indecision.

    a November 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I know there’s no way to cure you of judging yourself harshly. I felt a little bad today when I got home from work and refused to play catch with my daughter because I was tired. However, I cannot find it in myself to give myself completely over to my child. I am here for her, I will do whatever I can to make her life pleasant and fulfilled and wonderful. But to do so constantly will set her up for a life expectation that everything she wants will come to her. I’d rather see her be mildly disappointed in her Halloween costume than stress out over making it. I’d rather she understand that sometimes responsibility to the family as a whole and to myself take precedence to her. I think it helps her learn a little perspective. I hope it helps her learn perspective. At the very least, I think it will teach her that the sun does not shine out of her behind.

    Cut yourself some slack – everyone in the family (including you) deserves some time, attention, and to have their whims met occasionally.

    Anne (@notasupermom) November 3, 2011 at 12:19 am

    I have red bedding. It’s a deep, masculine red. And not satin. Totally classy. Just sayin’.

    But my main point is, those kids are going to look back on this Halloween and think it was the Best One Ever.

    You can’t meet all of their expectations. I think you did pretty well. I was either a gypsy (Mom’s scarf and brother’s summer bedspread) or the girl chimp doctor from Planet of the Apes every single year.

    It was what it was. Enjoy the good parts.

    This was my twentieth Halloween as a mom. I have messed up on forty-nine Halloween costumes.

    Emma November 3, 2011 at 7:55 am

    I think the most important thing is that our children know they are loved – even when we can’t deliver what they (or ourselves) might wish. This knowledge will cushion the disappointment when you can’t be there (maybe not immediately, but eventually), and let you answer yourself, as well.

    kelly @kellynaturally November 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Self-reliance and creativity, Mama. That’s what your fostering. Along with showing your kids that parents – male AND female can have varied roles in this world. That work – loving your work – is an admirable goal; and that it absolutely can coexist with mothering. You value work, you value family; it’s not an either/or.

    PS: Don’t doubt that your children live in your love… and the rest is just background noise.

    imperfectmomma November 3, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Oh that stinkin guilt. I struggle with that daily…even though I am not a working mom. I guess its just part of this mothering job. But I will say, growing up in a house that had a working mom? I never asked why my mom wasn’t there. why? Cause she was there when it mattered.

    mara November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    have red pillowcases. Two sets of them to go with the red sheets my teenage son insisted on when he was in his red/black bedroom stage which coincided with his red/black bar mitzvah decor stage. Except, I never painted his bedroom walls to match his new red/black bedding. They are still royal blue, which matches his old bedding. But…I don’t judge myself on that missed painting opportunity, because child (or rather young man) is happy. That is your standard by which to judge. You are out doing work you love, and coming home to people you love, who are just as happy being regular Strawberry Shortcake as long as there’s free chocolate and mommy there to take them. One more thing-did anyone prepare you to make costumes? Your hubs will definitely figure it out.

    notwho November 4, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Out of 14 Halloween costumes (that’s two kids, ages 9 and 5) I’ve gotten it right twice – including one of them this year. My son was a magician, in real tails, with a red cumberbund, bow tie, and top hat. Another mother even asked “how do you avoid the Disney/Superhero/Action characters?” Honestly, I had nothing to do with it. My daughter was Tinkerbell. http://wp.me/p1R9SP-1C

    red pen mama November 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I’m a lot like you, Catherine, always evaluating the job I am doing as a mother. Not to be hyper critical of myself, but to find ways to do things better. Failing to be critical — constructively critical, not put-myself-down-as-the-worst-mother-ever critical (not saying you are doing that) — would be a let down because there are always ways I can do better. For example, I am teaching myself how to bake (better), and I am teaching my daughters to bake with me. It’s just a little thing, and I’m not putting tons of pressure on myself. It’s just something I want to do with my kids. Not because perfect moms bake. Just because that is a good way to spend time with my kids. KWIM?

    Anyhoo, we went with store-bought outfits (because I may learn how to bake, but I’m probably not going to pick up sewing any time soon), and I painted the girls’ faces (a vampire with very white skin and a red mouth, and a green-faced, apple-cheeked witch). And I called it good.

    dieta November 15, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Wow what nonsense. I was raised by a working mom and you know what she taught me SOOOO much about life, love and responsibility. Granted I didn’t have the normal “working parents” childhood. My mom didn’t want me to be a latch key kid so I was dropped off by the school bus at the mall where my mom worked. I spend the afternoon in the back of the store she managed doing homework or helping customers (I mean really who better to help someone find a good book for tweeners than a tweener herself). I think being a working parent in the metro area is hard. Most people are gone for a total of 10 to 12 hours a day once all the commuting is factored in. Some kids only see one parent in the morning and the other parent at night. What can be done… Well, maybe people could realize that there are other things to factor into your compensation package like flex time, sick leave, length of commute. I left my last company for one with better insurance, flex hours, sick leave, and a 15 minute commute. I can’t tell you how much my quality of life has improved!!! But and here is where I really tick some people off. Being a stay at home mother is not for everyone. Everyone knows the stay at home mom who stays home but isn’t there for their kid. The mother of another child in my daughter’s preschool freely admits that her son watches hours of TV because “if I have to get on the floor and play with him one more minute my head is going to explode”. Really is this better for the kid than a parent who works? My other concern is the stay at home mothers who do not know how to control their kids or allow them independence. You know the kids who show up for school and FREAK OUT because they have been attached to their mother’s breast for the last 5 years. NOT all stay at home mothers are like this… some are amazing women who should be home nuturing their child but some women who are great parents at night and on weekends would make HORRIBLE stay at home parents. I know… I am one.

    Sugel November 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    well, i feel bad for you, that you lack the confidence to see yourself as the expert on your own child’s emotional well-being. i, however, AM an expert on my own children. i make sure to educate myself on child development–i didn’t just decide to have kids on a whim without knowing a bit about it. our family doctor told me that my 3 year old, who wasn’t speaking much at all, was just a late bloomer. wrong. she has pervasive developmental disorder which is on the autistic spectrum. thank god i didn’t leave it to him to help me decide what to do. my instincts as a parent told me otherwise and i enrolled her in an early intervention program. i will never again put all of my trust into anyone else when it comes to what’s best for my children–that’s why they were put into MY care.

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